I remember that day like it was yesterday.
The year was 1998. My grandfather had just passed away and all of us kids came out for the funeral.
My dad and my godmother were with him when he took his last breath and they had shared the news with us on the phone a couple of days before.
And there we were, standing room only, my cousin and I, the only two crying.
Tears rolling down our faces.
And I remember looking around, wondering what on earth was wrong with all these people.
This IS a really sad occasion.
He IS really gone.
Why are we the only ones that are responding in what seemed like the appropriate way to the situation?
It made me mad.
It made so mad, in fact, that I didn’t talk to any of the adults for the remainder of that trip.
I couldn’t make sense of it.
I didn’t know then what I know now.
I was only 18.
I didn’t know a single thing about how grief works.
Or that people grieve in different ways.
I had no idea that grief has stages or knew what they were.
Or how to plan for them when they come like waves and you barely have time to take another breath.
We all have our own ways of grieving the loss of a loved one.
The moment of surprise comes when you find yourself at the height of your biggest need.
And it so happens that your need isn’t met by your spouse.
Contrary to all past belief (and experience!), now when you need them the most, they are not there.
More than anything, your spouse has been there for you.
In the past, you two always found ways to comfort each other.
That’s just what you do — it’s what you’ve always done:
When one of you was sick, you’d care for each other.
When you were down to one car because you lent yours to a person in need, you supported each other.
When times got tough with little ones around, you were a team more than ever.
Even when one of you dealt with the loss of a dear one in the past, this support was still in place. We are there for each other. Unwavering. That’s the rule.
You have been there for each other — Every other time.
Now – of all times – now when you need your spouse the most, you wonder why they aren’t showing up.
Why they aren’t there for you.
And why on earth is this happening?
Why do I feel so alone?
You may have all the questions. And in place of answers, there is a void.
The timing couldn’t be any more off.
You are mining in history and remembering all the times they supported you.
When your grandma died.
When your colleague passed away from cancer.
Your spouse was there for you then – what is wrong with them now?
Now – now that it’s even closer to home, more important and more painful in so many ways — why are they so cruel?
Or cruel they seem…
And that is precisely why.
It is precisely in those moments when the loss hits too close to home – for both of you.
When you are both devastated by the news in much the same ways — when the person gone was someone dear to both of your hearts.
It is when loss is shared that you might not be able to be there for each other.
This one time.
And it happens because your loss is shared, your grief is too.
It’s what we call complicated grief.
You both are finding yourselves in the midst of the storm.
One wave after the next.
You may have had a miscarriage.
Perhaps you lost a child to a disease.
Perhaps you lost a parent or a close friend that you both knew and loved and had lots of history with.
Now it’s different.
And this is why.
It’s not that your spouse doesn’t want to support you.
It’s not that they aren’t grieving (even though that’s what it looks like sometimes).
It’s just that they grieve differently.
And the timing is likely off.
When you get hit by the wave, they might be in recovery mode.
Or they might have just gotten hit with three.
Really big ones.
They might be barely coming up for air themselves, unable to assist anyone besides themselves.
When you hit your lowest spot, they might seem disconnected from the pain.
First, you have to remember one thing.
It’s not that they are doing it on purpose.
It’s not that they mean to be hurting you, withholding support and love from you when you need it most.
It’s that they, too, are doing all they can to stay afloat.
Did that make it clear?
Second, know this – I often remind my couples — that your spouse can’t be everything to you.
I know my husband isn’t.
And — guess what?
I don’t even want him to be.
And he is a pretty great guy.
There is no other time that this applies more than when you’re in a time of grief.
This is the time you might need to look for another person to confide in.
For someone you trust to talk to about all this.
The bad and the worst and everything in between.
You both might need to find another person for support.
And there is nothing wrong with that.
Talk to your best friend.
Talk to your pastor.
Talk to your aunt.
Find a support group. A mental health professional.
It doesn’t matter – Just find someone.
So that you can take that pressure off of each other.
Third, know this:
There is nothing wrong with you.
There is nothing wrong with your spouse.
When it comes to shared grief and loss like the one you are experiencing, the rules don’t apply.
If ever this is true, it is now.
The more painful of a place it is, the more true it rings.
Even though you are in this together, the sooner you realize that it is ok to need support from elsewhere, the less hurt and resentful you will be in the end.
You don’t want to hold this against your spouse.
Not this time.
It’s not worth it.
Not ever, really –But particularly not now.
Because when the worst of the storm is over, you are still going to find each other right there, standing in the rain. And you can both be ok, together.